An Eye Opening Experience
In 2011 I was hospitalized with serious sight-threatening complications following cataract surgery. On admission to the ward, a young Arab doctor, his name showed on his I.D., explained that he needed to examine my eyes once again before the upcoming surgery. I was nauseous and vomiting, had hardly kept down any food during the previous week, a side effect of the high optical pressure, and so weak that my wife pushed me around in a wheelchair.
To say the least, I was feeling very sorry for myself and didn’t want to be literally poked in the eye again. The ophthalmic surgeon who was to do the operation, had, I thought, done all the groundwork the day before and more probing was adding insult to injury.
A nurse was trying to calm me down. Very uncharacteristically, I said to the nurse, “I feel shit.” I don’t usually use bad language. She agreed that I was within my rights to feel sick, but another examination was necessary before the operation an hour or two later. Both the doctor and the nurse were very reassuring. At the behest of my very loving but worried wife, I stopped acting like a five-year old and let the doctor do his work. I apologized to him profusely, angry at my own behavior.
A bed had been allocated but had not yet been disinfected. The young Arab woman who was in the process of cleaning, told me that she would be done in a shortly. My wife and I waited patiently and soon I lay on the very uncomfortable hospital bed.
I was aware of my surroundings, but uninterested. My initial operation had been distressful, even painful, having been given minimum local anesthetic as no complications had been expected. I was panicked at the thought of another traumatic experience. I told the surgeon how I felt. He assured me that he would be gentle. I soon found myself lying, anxious at the unknown, on an oversized dentist’s chair.
The area around my eye was prepared for the surgery. Suddenly, I saw the V-pointed sharp needle attached to a giant syringe bearing down on my forehead resembling an intercontinental ballistic missile. Fright replaced Reason. Pain seared through my skull as the needle punctured the skin above my eye piercing the flesh as the anaesthetic penetrated into the muscle. Overcome with Hysteria I writhed and complained. For a moment the doctor lost his cool, “I can’t do my job if you don’t keep still.” Sense prevailed. Thankfully the anodyne took affect and my orbital area became numb.
Lying in bed feeling relieved and relaxed after a successful operation, I was better able to take in my surroundings. I was in a quiet corner. The neighbour to my right, who had earlier been talking to visiting family in Arabic, kindly enquired after my health. Another patient was outside on the enclosed balcony, almost a private room, attended by his wife - both wore head coverings typical of the Druse. Most of the patients had visitors at one time or another. Israeli hospitals are like railway stations, people coming and going all the time, but all respect each other’s privacy. The mix of ethnicity, Jews and Arabs, was about even. From the cleaning staff to doctors, all work side by side in harmony. Hospitals in Israel operate without regard to creed. Palestinian doctors attend training courses in Israeli hospitals, living on nearby Israeli kibbutzim during their studies. Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Centre in Ein Karem is one of Israel’s largest hospitals with the most modern equipment and research facilities and the primary teaching facility of the Hebrew University Medical School. Again, I realized how lucky we are in Israel to have one of the most highly rated medical services in the world. In 2005, Hadassah was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in acknowledgment of its equal treatment of all patients, regardless of ethnic and religious differences, and efforts to build bridges to peace.
This got me thinking once again that harmony could prevail in our region in spite of the racial, cultural and religious mix.
“Israel Apartheid Week” an orgy of hate, misinformation and disinformation, staged annually on many college campuses across the USA and the world since early 2005 has caused Israel to be branded an “Apartheid State”.
The use of this derogatory term was chosen to denounce to the separation barrier Israel was forced to build to prevent terrorists from killing Jews. My anger rose as I thought of Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, 2006. The catchy title that has a smooth sound which glides easily off the tongue and rubs salt into the wound of unfair accusations. He is, I’m sure, aware of his power and should wield it with wisdom - not use deceptive slogans. I will be charitable and give him the benefit of the doubt that some Madison Avenue-type suggested this slick title. Most Israelis, from both the Left and Right did not want the barrier. Nevertheless, it has been a singular success in saving Jewish lives.
I grew up in South Africa during the years of minority rule and am more than qualified to understand what living in an “apartheid” society means. I was never happy to live under this unjust system and left with my family in 1979. In South Africa, white citizens had all facilities - suburbs, hospitals, schools, restaurants, hotels, public toilets, buses, – apart from black, asian (from the Indian subcontinent) and coloured citizens - hence the word “apartheid”. A small number of shops still had signs over the doorway “Native Shop”, that is, for Africans only. Park benches were, of course, marked “Whites Only”.
Apropos of India, independence in 1947 brought about the displacement of between ten and 20 million and the mutual murder of up to two million Muslims and Hindus shuffling between the newly partitioned states of Pakistan and India to find sanctuary. There was hardly a murmur from human rights activists and little help from the United Nations. Today it is mostly forgotten and was still unresolved as recently as 2007. India took the state of Hyderabad by force, although their ruler had been given the choice of sovereignty, that is, independence, joining neither India nor Pakistan. The world kept shtum.
The Palestinians, having rejected Partition, are the only group to have their own refugee organization, UNRWA, still being used by them as a crutch after seventy-four years.
Non-Jewish Israelis, Muslims and Christian alike, are able to pursue their lives and follow their own beliefs. Baha’i faithful are persecuted and put to death in Iran but The Baha’i World Centre is in Haifa, Israel. The universities are bustling with Arab students in all faculties, including medical schools where few places are available to the many who apply. Arab citizens of Israel comprise 20 % of the population. 17 % of Israeli doctors and 47 % of pharmacists are Arabs. In the army, Druse and Bedouin Arab men serve generation after generation with pride and distinction, Arabs serve in the diplomatic corps and in the judiciary – even in the High Court.
These facts that are constantly ignored by those who wish to pillory Israel. Not even those icons of the media, the BBC, The Times of London and The New York Times give Israel a fair deal. Other papers, The Independent, The Guardian in England and many in America are positively hostile.
Entertainment personalities, the likes of Annie Lennox – whose daughters have a Jewish-Israeli father, Peter Gabriel, Elvis Costello, Ken Loach and Roger Waters show a unique bias when it comes to the Jewish state. Miss Lennox appeared before the television cameras in 2006, berating Israel for defending itself against Hamas. Where is she when thousands are being slaughtered in Syria and basic human rights are denied in Iran? Her silence is deafening! Has she suddenly developed a dislike for the spotlight?
Apparently, some lawyer in the U.S. State Department believes that the 1948 cease-fire lines are, for some unknown reason, sacrosanct. All land beyond this line in which Israelis live is “occupied”, whereas previously it had only been disputed. Politician after politician, both those who pretend to care about Israel such as Tony Blair, as well as those who openly wish our destruction, mostly, but not only, Muslims, have decided that Israelis living beyond the pre-1967 borders are doing so illegally and against international law.
Many brilliant legal minds, including the late Eugene Rostow, a former Dean of the Yale Law School and Under Secretary for Politcal Affairs in Lyndon B. Johnson's administration, disagree with this premise. But, because they are pro-Israel, their opinions are dismissed.
When a ‘right-wing’ party heads a coalition government, Israel’s detractors accuse the prime minister of not wanting to make peace, and when the leaders are from the ‘left-wing’, Israel is accused of not making enough concessions to the Palestinians.
Israel accepted the UN Partition Plan in 1947 – the Palestinians rejected it. After defending herself in the Six Day War negotiations were offered – the Arabs replied ‘No Negotiations, No Recognition, No Peace’. Menahem Begin made peace with Egypt and Yitzhak Rabin with Jordan. The Israeli army withdrew from Southern Lebanon in spite of a lack of Lebanese sovereignty. Ariel Sharon once the despised ultra-hawk, gave Gaza, with all its infrastructure, over to the ‘moderate’ Palestinians of Fatah in spite of the daily missile attacks. It was immediately lost to the Hamas terrorists who murdered, hundreds, if not thousands of their Palestinian ‘brothers’ in the coup d’etat.
Until the Arabs concede “the right of return”, an adjustment of Israel’s fragile borders, especially at the narrowest point in the centre of the country, the retaining of large settlement blocs, recognition as a Jewish State and the right to live in our historical homeland, Israel cannot afford to make a meaningless peace.
It is true that hospitals are an island of tranquility where politics and religion are left at the door. Perhaps we can build on this and hope that a day without conflict will dawn in our region - sooner rather than later.